Multimedia Designer & Storyteller

How Mobile Apps Make Me a More Adventurous Graphic Designer and Photographer

This is Zeb. He is running for president of these United States.  Really, he is.

This is Zeb. He is running for president of these United States. Really, he is.

You have 20 minutes until the bus arrives at your stop.

According to Uber, your significant other will arrive in 12 minutes.

The guy on the phone at Gustav’s said your lunch will arrive in half an hour.

How do you find yourself spending such precious minutes?

There are no doubt a million possibilities, but I’ve found myself increasingly using such moments to play around on the latest design and photography apps that have made their way to my phone.

I might import a recent photo from my iPhone library into Adobe’s Lightroom app and create a custom filter that I can later apply to other photos.

I might use iMovie to string together some footage from a recent hike and then import the resulting video into Vont, creating some killer titles that turn an ordinary-looking, homespun collage into what, on first glance, looks like a promo on the Patagonia YouTube Channel. (OK, maybe not quite that good.)

Most recently, I’ve been hooked on designing icons and illustrations in the incredible app Assembly.

In reflecting on this habit, I’ve begun to realize just how these mobile apps are helping me develop as a professional and become more adventurous and experimental with my work.


3 Benefits of Designing on Mobile

Let me walk you through just what I mean, using as an example a very simple animation I recently created. But first, here are some specific ways mobile design and photography apps benefit me:

  1. They save me time. Perhaps this is obvious, but if I had to wait until I returned home before editing some photos or creating an icon, I would get half as much sleep as I do now. Either that, or the projects simply wouldn’t get done (probably the latter).
  2. They help me focus on a specific skill or action. By design, many apps are built to do well only a handful of things. iMovie, for example, is great for throwing together some clips from your iPhone library, but it doesn’t offer much in the way of title customization. Vont, on the other hand, offers an incredible range of title customization, but almost nothing else. Each app often locks me in to learning and experimenting with a single part of the creation process. This helps me to see each stage of development as something separate and opens me up to considering new possibilities — a new font, a different palette, or an off-beat texture.
  3. They also give me permission to experiment. After all, when I’m on my phone, I’m usually working on an early-stage design or a personal project. What I am doing during these small windows of time often doesn’t feel like work. This frees me to try things I might not otherwise bother with if I was home and juggling a design project with washing dirty laundry and keeping my dog out of the cupboards.


Case Study: Turning My Puppy into an Animated Gif

Earlier this week, I gave myself 30 minutes before dinner to construct a vector illustration of my golden retriever puppy, Zebby. All just for fun. Here’s what happened:

Using Assembly, and its library of vector shapes, I composed this illustration:

Zeb illustrated


The process took only about 10 minutes, so I decided to take some pre-fab leaves and textures and place the puppy in a flower garden. Like so:

Zeb in the flowers


Still short of my allotted 30 minutes, it hit me that I could quickly turn this illustration into a simple animated gif. So I made two copies of the original file with small tweaks to the leaves and the dog’s eyelids.

By this time, I was just over 30 minutes, but I decided to keep going after dinner. I took the three resulting illustrations created in Assembly and then imported them into the awesome paint-effects app Brushstroke, where I added some texture and played with the paint style until I came out with this look, which I applied to all three versions.

Zeb painted


Finally, still well shy of an hour, I imported the illustrations into the gif-making app ImgPlay and created this looping animation.

Zeb animated

All this in less than 60 minutes.

No one is going to mistake me for Walt Disney or Hayao Miyazaki, but I had lots of fun making this gif.

And in the process of this experimentation I thought of all sorts of way I can apply the process, or a variation of it, to social media graphics and other small-scale design projects on my to-do list.

What are your favorite mobile apps for design and photography? Share your favorites below or drop Charlie a line over at